Soldiers' relatives win right to sue MoD

(From British ForcesNews 19.10.2012)

The Ministry of Defence has lost a legal fight to throw out a key battlefield negligence claim.

The Court of Appeal has ruled the MOD can now be sued by families bereaved in a series of incidents in Iraq, amid claims their loved ones could have been saved by better kit. Two surviving soldiers have also joined the legal action.

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Family members though failed to convince the judges that the MOD had breached the soldiers' human rights.

The ruling came after both sides contested a high court ruling opening the door to legal action on grounds of negligence, but not under the Human Rights Act.

The MOD had essentially argued that it is for Parliament and not the courts to hold it responsible for both procurement and battlefield decisions, something The Master of the Rolls Lord Justice Neuberger, sitting with Lord Justice Moses and Lord Justice Rimer today disagreed with.

The survivors and family members argued that all the incidents in question could have been survivable with better equipment.

Corporal Stephen Allbutt of the Queens Royal Lancers was killed in a so-called "friendly fire" incident in March 2003 when his Challenger 2 was hit by another British tank. Soldiers Dan Twiddy from Stamford and Andy Julien from Bolton were badly hurt in the same incident.

Along with Cpl Allbutt's widow Debi they claim the tank wasn't fitted with vital identification equipment and that the other crew hadn't had adequate recognition training.

Separately, relatives of three soldiers killed in now notorious Snatch Land Rovers had brought legal action which the Appeal Court was considering at the same time.

Private Phillip Hewett of First Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment died in July 2005 when his Snatch Land Rover was blown up.

Similar explosions claimed the lives of Private Lee Ellis of 2 Para, but attached to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath of First Battalion the Irish Guards.

Their families had been arguing that the MOD had breached the Human Rights Act in denying that Article II of the European Convention on Human Rights, a right to life, should apply. That element of the families' legal action was today unsuccessful and the families now intend to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Delivering today's judgement Lord Justice Neuberger said "The duty of care owed by the Ministry of Defence as employer to the members of the armed forces does exist and has been recognised, without demur, by the courts. It includes a duty to provide safe systems of work and safe equipment [...]."

The MOD said "Our thoughts and concerns remain with those that were injured and the families of those that sadly lost their lives.

"We are considering the judgment by the Court of Appeal and as this is likely to be subject to further legal action it would be inappropriate for us to comment further."

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